LOS ANGELES, California — Netflix’s “Always Be My Maybe” has had people looking for it even when only the germ of an idea existed.
In an interview with lead stars Ali Wong and Randall Park, it was revealed that for the longest time, they just knew they would work together on “something someday,” likely a romantic comedy.
“I remember when he called me and proposed that we do a rom-com together,” said Wong in the production notes. “I was sitting in this terrible trailer from the ’80s, shooting a pilot, and thought he meant that he wanted me to write something for him to play the lead in with Anne Hathaway or something. And then he was like, ‘No, we should write something together, for us to star in together.’ I was really surprised.”
The two have known each other for, like, forever even before that call. Ali and Randall first met at UCLA, where Wong was a member of the LCC Theatre Company, an Asian American theater group co-founded by Park. They’ve stayed friends since, remaining in each other’s orbits as Wong made waves in the standup circuit and Park carved out a name for himself as an actor in film and TV.
In 2015, the longtime friends found commercial success together for their work on ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat,” in which Park stars and Wong serves as a writer.
But it wasn’t until Wong’s Netflix special “Baby Cobra” had come out and hit the cultural zeitgeist that the long-gestating idea had finally found its catalyst: A New Yorker profile on Wong mentioned that she and Park were working on a script — their version of “When Harry Met Sally…” When other media outlets picked up on it, their agents were suddenly inundated with calls.
“They didn’t know we didn’t even have a script at that point,” said Park.
So, Wong and Park decided they needed to hunker down and start writing a draft for what would become “Always Be My Maybe.”
Once the script was ready — in a reversal of how projects are usually acquired and developed — it was immediately picked up by Netflix, who then sent it to a handful of producers who came in and pitched for the job of developing the script and building it into a movie.
Months later, here we are.
Directed by Nahnatchka Khan, who was “Fresh Off The Boat” showrunner, “Always Be My Maybe” is about childhood friends Sasha and Marcus. They were the best of friends growing up next door to each other in San Francisco. More often than not, when her parents were working long hours, Sasha would have dinner at Marcus’s, a home bursting with brightness and warmth. She especially loved helping his mom in the kitchen, watching intently and absorbing every word as she made mouth-watering Korean dishes for the family.
Their friendship carried on into their teens as they fished at the pier, rode the cable cars, and wandered through Chinatown. But after tragedy struck Marcus’s family, the two made an impulsive move inside Marcus’ car that awkwardly and abruptly ended their friendship.
Some 15 years later, Sasha is now a celebrity chef in Los Angeles who’s engaged to mega-restaurateur Brandon Choi. She returns to her hometown to open a new restaurant and, with a little help from her mischievous business partner and best friend Veronica, runs into Marcus, who’s working for his dad Harry, still living in the same room he grew up in, and still driving that car. Though the two couldn’t be more different and are reluctant to reconnect, they soon find the old sparks — and maybe some new ones — are still there.
Aside from Ali and Randall, the movie stars Michelle Buteau, Vivian Bang, Karan Soni, Charlyne Yi, Daniel Dae Kim, James Saito, with Keanu Reeves, and Lyrics Born.
As they are Koreans, we asked Randall and Ali if they meant for “Always Be My Maybe” to be an “Asia represent” or “Asian American represent” thing, the way hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians” was deemed. Or if they think something like their movie would have materialized 10 years ago given the landscape then.
“When we started this project, and even when we brought this to Netflix, it was before ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’” said Randall with a smile. “I think we have a great script and there were other factors that played into them (Netflix) wanting to do it. I don’t think it was so much, ‘Oohh we got to jump on this representation thing.’ They just liked the project.”
Still, the two, and even Daniel Dae Kim, are happy that many of the characters in the movie are Asian American and played by Asian American.
“It’s about people that I, for the first time, can say I know. I know people just like the characters. I’ve grown up with people like them,” said Daniel. “Not that I don’t know people from Asia, but the people I grew up with had an American experience with an Asian heritage. This is the closest film I’ve ever been a part of that’s been anything akin to my own experience. That means so much. I think it’s one of the first Asian American movies I’ve seen of this magnitude.”
And if his point isn’t clear enough, he added: “If there’s any misconception I’d like to change, it’s that Asians are not always foreigners. That we can be born and raised in this country, to be part of the fabric of America.”
On the lighter side of things, Ali said she likes it that there’s a lot of food in the story.
“Food is, for her (Sasha), memories,” she said. “Sasha connects to the mom via memories of the food she cooked.”
The dishes prepared during these scenes were created by Niki Nakayama, owner of the celebrated Los Angeles restaurant n/naka and one of the only female kaiseki chefs in the world.
And everyone, of course, loves it that Keanu is there. When Bulletin Entertainment asked whose idea was it to cast the “John Wick” star, Ali, Randall, and Natch merely said that to get him, “that was the dream, right?”
Natch said: “I don’t think anybody knew what his schedule was or what the likelihood was. But, you know, these guys had it in the script that it was written for Keanu. So, we sent it to his agents and we were, like, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”
“And then we got word back that he wanted to meet on it. When we sat down with him, he had so many funny ideas and thoughts on how to approach it.”
The “Always Be My Maybe” cast came in full force at the world premiere of the movie held recently at Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles.
Tags: Ali Wong, California, Charlyne Yi, Crazy Rich Asians, Daniel Dae Kim, Definitely ‘Maybe’, James Saito, Karan Soni, Keanu Reeves, Los Angeles, Lyrics Born, Manila Bulletin, Manila Bulletin Entertainment, mb entertainment, mb.com.ph, Michelle Buteau, Nahnatchka Khan, Netflix, Randall Park, Vivian Bang, “Always Be My Maybe”